By Joanna Bastian

Most of our dinners are planned around what is available this time of year. Last night, our dinner consisted of a roasted vegetable sauce smothered over potatoes and scrambled eggs. A side salad of cucumbers and fresh-picked tomatoes still warm from the sun rounded out the meal. The sauce is a favorite of ours, made of eggplant, garlic, onion and tomato — chopped into rough chunks, tossed with olive oil and salt, and roasted at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.

After roasting, I blend the vegetables in a food processor with more olive oil, basil and oregano until a hearty sauce emerges. This sauce is great with pasta, or as a dipping sauce for pita chips.

This year, we planted fennel for the first time. I love how the entire fennel bulb bursts out of the soil, the layers looking like a fashionable wrap, the feathery fronds waving in the breeze — like a confident model strutting down the runway. Big hair, don’t care!

Last year around Thanksgiving, I nestled two fennel bulbs in my grocery cart at Hank’s Harvest Foods. As I strolled through the aisles, the fennel fronds bounced and waved. Three different people stopped me and motioned to the fennel in my shopping basket, wondering what I planned to do with it. For fennel lovers, the variety of recipes are endless, and we’re always curious to share new ways to enjoy fennel.

Fennel has a fabulous licorice flavor that is excellent in almost every dish — savory or sweet. Roasted with meat and root vegetables, the fennel remains firm to the bite and adds flavor. Paired with cold fruit, the crisp fennel adds a satisfying crunch with a burst of flavor. A bouquet of fennel fronds, chive blossoms and chamomile flowers in a vase of water fills the kitchen with the smells of summer.

Fennel is an excellent source of dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin C, and is a natural source of estrogen. All of the nutrients in fennel support bone health, boost the immune system and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Instead of cans of soggy spinach, Popeye could have been popping crunchy stalks of licorice-tasting fennel — reduces waste and keeps you regular!

To make roasted chicken with fennel, you will need boneless chicken thighs, one large fennel bulb with fronds, one large carrot, one large potato and one onion. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop fennel bulb and stalks, carrot, potato, and onion into equal-sized pieces. Toss vegetables with olive oil, fresh thyme, and Hannah’s popcorn seasoning. Spread vegetables across bottom of roasting dish, cover with white wine. Coat chicken thighs with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and Hannah’s popcorn seasoning (that stuff should be included in your to-go bag during fire season, it makes everything delicious). Layer the chicken on top of the vegetables and roast at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. Top with chopped fennel fronds before serving.

To make a fennel and nectarine salad with honey-orange dressing, layer thinly sliced nectarines and fennel bulb. Whisk together a quarter-cup of orange juice with a tablespoon of honey until well combined. Pour over the sliced nectarines and fennel. Top with chopped almonds and fennel fronds.

Libby Creek herbalist and author Rosalee de la Forêt, shares several creative and delicious fennel recipes through Learning Herbs. Visit learningherbs.com, and select the “Remedies” category from the upper right corner of the home page. Enter “fennel” into the search bar. There are a wide range of informational pages on fennel and recipes, like fig and fennel soda bread, fennel and candied ginger, and many more.

If you haven’t tried fresh fennel, give it a taste — you may be pleasantly surprised.

PREVIOUSLY IN LOWER VALLEY

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